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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  May 23, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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>> on the broadcast tonight, from hard-hit joplin, missouri. the path of destruction. >> that is a monster tornado. >> a direct hit from a deadly tornado tore this town to pieces. >> that is destroyed completely. >> tonight, hospitals, rescue teams, friends and neighbors overwhelmed. and the bad weather keeps on comi. our team is here on the ground, "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television and good evening from
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joplin, missouri. this is, of course, now more than any community anywhere should ever be forced to endure. in just the space of the last hour, we have been through a hailstorm. we have been through pouring, a deluge of rainfall, and now a shift in the wind direction. we're still in the grip of stormy weather here. and of course, what brings us here, 116 souls so far lost in this tornado. that's the death toll so far. again, all the numbers here locally will likely change. untold number of injured, and they're hoping for actual rescues. it makes this the single sna t the united states. we're talking about a storm which at its base was give or take about three quarters a mile across. reports of multiple funnels coming off the one anvil-shaped storm.
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it was on the ground, it looks like, for about a six-mile path while it was here, right through joplin, missouri. winds at the core, at their in height, estimated between 190 miles per hour and 198 miles per hour. in lay terms, about as much energy as mother nature can focus on any one spot at any one time. and it happened in this community, joplin, missouri. behind us, st. john's hospital, the regional medical center here. you may have already heard x-rays and paperwork from this hospital was found upwards of 60 miles from here. that's because the debris cloud went up in the air 18,000 feet. the altitude where some commercial airliners fly, so it was carried at that altitude for several miles. we have a huge team on the ground, and among those to arrive first for us, nbc's al roker.
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who is going to start off the coverage tonight. this is among the most concentrated energy anywhere on the planet. >> i have never seen anything like this, even in tuscaloosa. we're talking about hearing sirens, the crack of thunder, the flash of lightning. it's been like this all day. it continues to get worse. the good news is there have been rays of sunshine in that seven people have been pulled from rubble today. so that is good news. for a long time, they're going to be cleaning up. the work is really just getting started. >> got debris on the ground here. got debris on the ground. >> the eye of the storm, joplin, missouri. >> i have a large, destructive tornado. on the southwest side of joplin. >> reporter: a massive tornado three quarters of a mile wide, tore through joplin, throwing debris 18,000 feet in the air. >> tearing up the entire city. >> reporter: city streets and neighborhoods stripped bare in minutes. within moments, rescue workers raced to the scene. some using canines trying to find those trapped in the
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rubble. the weather channel's mike bettes was chasing the tornado when it hit ground. he was one of the first on the scene. >> we rolled up when this tornado came through about 45 minutes ago. i personally witnessed unfortunately injuries and fay tallies. we're going through the neighborhood trying to figure out if anyone needs help. people are scrambling right now. i want you to take a look at the scope of the damage. it's taking my breath away. multiple homes, businesses destroyed, cars flipped. mangled debris everywhere you look. people are trying to help people out anyway way they can. >> reporter: one of the area's primary sources of medical care, st. john's regional center, was also destroyed. dr. ron smalling was on duty when it got hit. >> when we came out, it looked like a war zone, like we had been hit with a bomb. so we rushed to the patients. some on ventilators. some were cut up with glass. all the windows in the 12-bed ccu were all blown out, and the
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ceiling tiles were all down, so we began to mobilize and get the patients out of the rooms. >> reporter: the raw emotion of the moment for difficult for everyone witnessing it. >> it's tough, no question about that. >> tornado devastation as far as the eye can see and off in the distance beyond the firefighters doing search and rescue, we even have fires erupting in joplin. it really is an unfolding scene. changes minute by minute. neighbors are trying to -- oh, they just pulled out their dog. that is great. they just pulled a dog, he looks to be okay, out of the house there. that's great news. >> there were bodies in the park last night. >> reporter: john has lived in joplin his whole life. you ever seen anything like this? >> no, no, never, never. this is what i -- i only see maybe of tv this bad. but the trees, look, the bark is stripped from the trees.
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there are things that just don't belong. >> and that's your neighbor. >> larry, my neighbor. he's 73. i don't know where he's at. i know he was home. >> reporter: overworked rescue workers and volunteers make it to larry's house. they search the wreckage hoping to find him alive. as the search for larry and other victims go on, survivors struggle to make sense of their losses. and we're back here live in joplin with al roker and our buddy from the weather channel, meteorologist mike bettes. al, just one question quick to you. how much notice are people saying they had here? >> they heard the sirens and some people are saying within five minutes, the tornado hit. folks in the hospital were saying that. >> mike, as i said to you before the broadcast, i used to live here, and this is a tornado culture. i was in a walgreen's today, and
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the weather radio was on the checkout. you're mindful of it. remind folks of how it is, you were here quickly. >> we were on a project with the weather channel. we have been storm chasing for the last two weeks. we were targeting the storm. we came right behind it. we got hailed on, rained on. we lost visual of the storm itself, not knowing the tornado was just ahead of us. so we had to slow down. we had no visibility. we were targeting joplin. came into town literally minutes later, and the next thing we see is tragedy all around us. people in the streets wandering aimlessly. i get choked up, i have to be honest with you. we know these things can happen, but i think when you see them with your own two eyes and you witness them firsthand, it puts them in a whole different light. >> you had walking wounded behind you. people who hadn't been triaged medically yet. >> i saw things i didn't want to see, people who had been wounded, people who perished in the tornado. you heart went out to the people who live here because it was their family members, their
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friends, their pets. everybody was in a state of shock. i was. >> al, was i right as a layperson, this is about as much energy as mother nature can focus on one area? >> it is, and we have more. there's a risk stretching from to but there's a strong risk tomorrow in this area, including joplin, missouri, and the weather service is now saying it may be a high risk. we're going to have to keep an eye on this. watch tomorrow morning. >> while we're talking, i see weather over our shoulders. mike bettes, al roker, thank you gentlemen both here in this, what has become a media compound at the hospital. the governor of the state was walking around earlier, and i grabbed him for a moment. and we talked about the job ahead for this state, what they do in what order. >> one more time, i mean, seven rescues today. we still believe there are people buried below the rubble. even though it's raining and thundering and lightning, the firefighters have come in from kansas city, the task force from columbia. they want one more shot to come
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across the area to hopefully get more good news out of what has been a horrifically disastrous time. >> reporter: governor nixon of the state of missouri. again, we're here at st. john's hospital, regional medical center, really. a landmark here in joplin, and for this area, and because of the windows blown out, because of the damage they took, it's become such an iconic picture of this, though not representative of the clear earth that this tornado left behind. what a community to take this hit. their story tonight from nbc's ron mott. >> reporter: trouble usually arrives at st. john's regional medical center in the e.r. >> i drove up to the emergency room and the emergency room was gone. >> reporter: on sunday, trouble showed up from every imaginable direction with fury. whipping doctors, nurses, and staff into a sudden frenzy of concern and then care. first moving 183 patients away from windows. next, out of the building all together.
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>> the tornado was on us before we even knew it. everybody dove for cover under the patient beds and gurneys. i'm just amazed there was nobody seriously injured. every single -- >> reporter: outside the hospital, cars are twisted, crumpled chunks of metal. a medical helicopter on its side, its rotor smashed to pieces. an entire glass facade ripped off the building. the fire chief said it took just 90 minutes to evacuate the nine-story hospital. >> for something of this devastation, i don't think anybody can be prepared for this. the damage was so widespread, so destructive. until you see something like this, it's hard to imagine. >> reporter: while many of the seriously wounded were transp t transported to other hospitals, today, the walking wounded made their way to memorial hall where patients will be treated for now, officials say. some patients will rush to the town's only other hospital any way they could get there. >> this is a very blessed medical community with two great hospitals right across the street from one another.
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we have always been competitive, but this really brings out the best in people. >> reporter: a block away from the hospital, this homeowner sifted through the rubble that was his two bedroom home, looking for clothes he can salvage for his two daughters. >> pants and shoes. they don't have anything. a little bit is something that would help us. >> reporter: tonight, the help many here need has poured in from neighboring communities and three other states with more helping hands on the way. >> i'm gratified and amazed at the outpouring of support from our neighbors. >> reporter: according to the "joplin globe" newspaper here, they say up to 1,200 people have sought treatment for their injuries tonight, and the community is coming together because they know this is going to be a long struggle coming back. >> insult to injury with the weather coming in, another wave of it. ron mott on the story unfolding behind us at the hospital. thanks. and we walked around, of course, the neighborhoods. once neighborhoods, now piles of rubble. people are actually marking where the houses stood so people
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can find some semblance of a street address on gps. to be perfectly honest, when you walk around a place like this, this soon after a disaster, you find people who are clinically in shock. and that includes some of what you're about to see. we ran into kelly weaver, who had just come home from epcot center in florida, to realize her grandmother had been killed in that home. her body found there in the yard. >> it's crazy. you know, it was surreal -- to come home to this. you know, my whole -- the whole town, my whole family. everyone. her house was her pride. we come home and she's not here. and we come in and there's other people pilfering through her stuff that we don't know. >> how old was she? >> 83. and she was vibrant, great. a phenomenal woman. >> how is it you're able to talk about her? >> it's surreal.
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i can't believe what i'm saying. coming here and seeing this and going through this, i don't know what's going on in my mind. i'm just out of my wits. >> well, i hope you find her. >> thank you so much. >> and no more than 100 yards away from there, up the hill, we found another family, as families throughout this area are doing, dazed, stunned, and confused. going through what they can find. where were you when it hit? >> i was with my two kids in the house. >> how is it you're alive? >> faith in god, the only way. >> oh, my god. how many people made it in here? did you hear -- >> everybody on this block is okay. >> what do you do tomorrow and the next day? >> figure it out when it comes, i guess. >> can you believe mother nature is doing this right now? >> it's hard to believe she hit in the middle of joplin. >> and when you see the
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earthscape here, there really is no figuring out how people survived block upon block of what used to look like joplin, missouri. yesterday was graduation day for joplin high school. they had it at another location, the nearby college campus. there is no joplin high school left. in fact, they have canceled the entire remaining school year here. we have the story of that high school from nbc's kevin tibbles. >> reporter: when the sky went black and came crashing down, it tore the joplin high school apart. >> office was right here. >> reporter: today, principal sichetti came to see if anything could be salvaged. >> it was utter devastation. the gymnasium is down completely. >> reporter: the school's auditorium is wrecked, the music room collapsed. sunday was supposed to be a happy day. sarah stickland and the other seniors had just celebrated graduation across town from their school.
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in a larger space that could accommodate parents and friends. >> i knew it would be the last time i walk through those doors as a high school student, but i didn't literally think it would be the last time i would walk through these doors. >> reporter: today, evan menke says he's lucky to be alive. he was in his car driving home after the ceremony when the windows blew in and glass flew everywhere. >> a tree fell on the hood. we think if that didn't happen, we would be dead. we're very lucky to be alive. >> reporter: at 18, he contemplated dying. >> i thought the whole time, i hope it doesn't hurt. >> reporter: now students and staff don't know where to begin as reality slowly sets in. >> as every hour goes by, it gets more difficult to deal with. >> reporter: and while evan and his family managed to survive, brian, a friend traveling just in front of him seems to have been pulled out of the car by the storm. they're still searching for him tonight. >> i don't need to tell you what a huge local landmark that high
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school is or was along with this hospital, all of it. kevin tibbles. >> and more storms on the way. >> unbelievable. and because the sky is getting angry, we should tell you, some something happens to our live signal, ron allen is standing by in a new york studio. if you see that happen, that's what's going on electronically. and we'll be back on the air. right now, we're going to take a break in the coverage of the disaster in joplin, missouri tonight. more in just a moment.
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tonight, more in just a moment. we're back, and if you live here in joplin, missouri, as i did years ago, your local paper every morning is the "joplin globe." and these days it's a collection of coworkers and friends, all of whom are working through the losses they have suffered. and put out a newspaper to keep the website current.
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among them, jeff larry. he's a veteran crime reporter with the "joplin globe" who wrote so movingly about your own loss. i read your piece. you're in a closet with sports equipment. suddenly what you feel is rain coming in. everything is gone. how is your newsroom doing? and how is my old stomping grounds doing? >> the newsroom is on the one hand, devastated. we had seven or eight employees of the news room who have lost their home or lost most of their home. and many other possessions. but we, on the other hand, are very grateful because there was a period yesterday when after this storm had hit for about a five-hour, six-hour period where there was a question whether two of our employees, newsroom employees, had even managed to survive. and we got good word late last night on both of those.
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and that's -- that's what's important. and i mean, you can always get things and homes back, but you can't get a life back. >> what have you been told about shock? and what have you been told is going to be the effect? the fact we're looking at these very dark thunder clouds. i'm seeing lightning over your shoulder while we're talking. this can't help. >> it can't, and it remains a concern for all of us here. and certainly, this morning's scare with another supercell moved through, i think everybody was expecting the worst. luckily, that didn't happen. hopefully nothing more will happen here, but yeah, i mean, it doesn't seem anything worse can happen. >> i understand it. our hearts go out to you. thank you for your good work on the job. jeff has been kind enough to join us. let's take another break. back with some of the day's other news right after this.
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we promised you other news tonight. look what is happening again in iceland. remember what we went through last year with the volcano? one more time, the plumes of smoke and ash up into the atmosphere. you know where it goes. it drifts over the atlantic to europe. it will and already has disrupted air travel.
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it's in fact forced president obama to change his travel plans. he's leaving ireland early. he spent the day here today. part of this long-planned multi-day european trip. he got a huge welcome, crowd easily 30,000 large. and indulged in an age-old tradition. every visitor to dublin is welcome to do it, a pint of guinness at the factory. we should say the president very much in touch with emergency response here in joplin. he spoke this morning with governor nixon of missouri. i happen to know the governor just also spoke with the vice president before he pulled up here. former minnesota governor tim pawlenty in pelsh politics formally declared he's a presidential candidate today. and he did it notably in iowa. he said he has what it takes to unite his republican party and the country. he said he will tell the american people the truth. he got a big boost over the past weekend when potential gop rival indiana governor mitch daniels announced he will not be
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running. and back at home in wall street, worries about debt in europe rattled the stock market. the dow was down almost 130 points on the day. we'll be back in a moment with more of what happened here in joplin, missouri, after this.
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nd we're bk here in joplin, missouri. sad to say no matter if you have a big screen tv, high definition, not high definition, as long as we have scenes like this one behind us, standing here witnessing this, it will never be perfectly conveyable on television. suffice it to say, the map has been redrawn, the topography, the map of missouri. it's hard to be optimistic about if they're ever going to be the same here. the good news, a lot of people are streaming in. national guard, kansas, oklahoma, arkansas, missouri. you can go to our website,
5:59 pm, our twitter and facebook pages because they need vowel tears here, knbut they ne our donations most of all. that's our broadcast for this monday. i'm brian williams and tonight, we're in joplin, missouri. we hope to see you again tomorrow evening. good night. right now at 6:00, emotional reaction from the family of bryan stow in the wake of the suspect in that case. the u.s. supreme court orders a drastic reduction in the california population and guess where thousands of inmates are headed. he never thought he would see his class ring again but after 70 years, an unlikely story. the


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